Posts tagged ‘herbs’

May 13, 2011

what i have learned about tomatoes

what i have learned first and foremost: i am not a tomato expert.

that might not be all my fault.  i live in a part of the country that is not very conducive to growing healthy tomatoes.  in fact last week, i heard another master gardener remark  that oklahoma is the  best place to grow tomato pests and tomato diseases. not necessarily tomatoes.  i say all that to say, this is not a tutorial.  just imagine we are strolling through my garden (or yours)  having a casual conversation about tomatoes and exchanging ideas and tips on what worked and what didn’t.  mostly what didn’t.

  1. tomatoes like to be warm.  here, our last final frost date is around tax day.  technically that means that all warm weather vegetables can be set out after that date.  however, tomatoes like a soil temp of about 60 degrees and usually the soil by that time is still pretty cool.  this can be a hard concept to grasp because most nurseries and hardware stores are already selling tomato transplants, giving you the urge to get out and start digging in the dirt.  i have found that it is best to wait a few weeks after the planting date.  not that i have always done that mind you.  you can cheat a bit if you want by using the wall-o-water tubes or warming up the ground with black plastic.  i’ve used the wall-o-water gadgets once and they worked fine.  the drawback is that they are not pretty and if you are like me and want everything in your garden to be beautiful you won’t like them.  that is why they are currently sitting in my garage and i haven’t used them since.
  2. the soil around tomato plants should never be allowed to dry out.  i learned this the hard way.  last summer when i was growing grape tomatoes, i was not being consistent about checking the soil every day.  as a result the soil got very dry and the plants started to wilt so i immediately flooded them with water.  a few weeks later the plants began to drop leaves.  they survived and produced but not as much as they might have otherwise.  now i use a lot of mulch to conserve moisture, sometimes even laying several layers of newspaper down first to keep the soil nice and moist.  as long as they get one inch of water per week, i don’t need to do a lot of extra watering.
  3. eggshells help prevent blossom end rot.  eggshells provide the calcium needed to prevent this common disease.  whenever i plant my tomatoes, i place a small handfull of crushed eggshells in the bottom of the hole.  so far i’ve not lost any plants to blossom end rot.  i have, however lost quite a few to spider mites………
  4. spider mites like tomatoes as much as i do.  so far, for the past three years i have lost my plants mid-summer to spider mites.  i have tried spraying with pyola, an organic insecticide, starting regularly around june.  this only helps a little bit.  i have also completely quit planting marigolds, which i love.   although they deter nemetodes and therefore are thought to be a great companion plant,  marigolds attract spider mites.  in spite of all my efforts i still struggle with mites.  this year i am going to try pruning my tomatoes, making them easier to manage and i am planning to put in a fall crop around july 4.  should we lose some plants, then, hopefully a successive planting will at least give us some harvest until fall.
  5. tomatoes like basil.  planting them together also makes me feel like an italian.  i’m married to one, i need to live up to it.  tomatoes also like carrots, so i’ve been told.  but carrots do not like oklahoma soil so i’ve never been able to try this practice.
  6. ollie likes tomatoes.  last year i caught him tugging at a few green ones before ripping them off the vine and chowing down.  this is the reason for all the little chicken wire “fences” around my vegetable beds.
  7. tomatoes should never be planted in the same place twice.  rotating the crops will help prevent nemetodes, those unpleasant little underground beings that tie your roots in knots.  i’ve read conflicting information about how much time to allow between plantings.  some sources say one  year, some say two or even four.  i rotate every year.  my small garden won’t allow for much more than that.

our favorite variety are the heirloom cherokee purples.  i also love to grow romas which i have found to produce well, take up minimal space, do not need to be staked, and seem to be more resistant to pests and disease.  this year i am also putting in two celebrity tomato plants.  i will have ten plants total which should be more than enough provided we have good luck with them.

*cute tomato graphic credit

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April 19, 2011

come visit my herb garden!

i’m not much of a monday person.

we enjoy our long, lovely weekends.  we kick them off with our date night on friday, work in the garden and grill out on saturday, and conclude them on sunday evening with a glass of wine on the back porch.

monday morning is an abrupt back to reality slap in the face, usually starting off with an early morning airport run where I kiss my sweetheart goodbye for the week.

i’m not much of a monday person.

yesterday, however, was something of an exception.

yesterday, my husband and i made a trip together out to the country dairy for our raw milk and cream.  the drive out and back gave us a chance to catch up after his trip last week.

yesterday i enjoyed the hum of my washing machine while i deboned a chicken making me feel all warm and housewifey inside.

yesterday, i planted my herb garden.

or rather, i finished planting my herb garden as i simply added some annual herbs, and other new things alongside the perennial herbs already growing.

this is my herb garden:

it is the result of about two years worth of work, much of that time spent shuffling things around trying to find the right place for my plants.  the garden is situated in a narrow, west facing bed up against the brick wall of the house where the mediterranean herbs such as rosemary and oregano can absorb the heat of the afternoon sun. i suppose it is rather odd that the herbs are not located with the rest of the kitchen garden but I like it here: it is just to the right of the kitchen doorstep for very easy access when i am cooking. i can pop out and grab what i need without having to take the pot off the stove.

my garden is not a showcase of every specimen of herb known to man.  there are several things you won’t find here.

i don’t grow cilantro.  cilantro prefers the cooler weather and about the only time i want to use it is when i am making my salsa with my homegrown tomatoes, which happen to be a warm weather crop.

i don’t grow dill.  i just don’t.

i don’t grow fennel because my husband doesn’t care for the taste.

i don’t grow parsley.  i don’t use it often enough to justify the use of limited space, and i prefer not to share it with the swallowtail caterpillars even though i really enjoy the butterflies.

i do grow….

a nice healthy patch of oregano, one of the perennial herbs that comes back year after year,

a brand new patch of variegated sage, chosen more for color and texture than anything else.

a certain variety of thyme.  at least that is what i think this is based on the scent.  this was given to me last fall as a cast-off from someone else’s garden.  i was thrilled that it took root and came back.  are you noticing my vintage table knife markers?  i found them at napa style and i. love. them.

and of course, here is common thyme.  i grew this little baby from seed under my grow-lights.

rosemary.  planted last year and protected from the blizzard under a garden cloche.

 and because i think every garden should have flowers, here is a rose.  i call it the grocery store rose because that is where it came from: one of those small pots wrapped up for valentine’s day in pink cellophane.  i tossed it in the garden and didn’t expect it to last this long.  it has been moved a few times which is probably why it isn’t blooming just yet.  i am also very aware that it needs to be shaped.

this is sorrel.  this is an experiment as i’ve never grown sorrel before, nor have i ever used it in my cooking.  i started this inside along with a few other things and have nursed it along.  it lopped over in the wind while i was taking this picture.  i planted it amongst the dutch iris, another flower i have in my herb garden.

this is a very young patch of lavender, planted last fall.  lavender doesn’t do well here in oklahoma as our springs are usually too wet. lavender doesn’t care to have wet feet.  i have a rule in my garden: i never give up on any one thing until i have tried it three times.  this is my third lavender plant.  if it doesn’t flourish, the space will be given to something else.  you can see that the leaves have a little bit of damage due to the hard winter but it is getting ready to bloom so there is hope.

this scraggly lookin’ thing is catmint.  this was another cast-off that i salvaged and brought home. it doesn’t look like much now, but when it gets going it will spread to 30″ and send out lavender colored spikes. very pretty.  although i would have done better to position it opposite the lavender for a balance of color, but oh. well. there it is.

and this is lemon balm,

and sweet marjoram which is new.  i planted this because i had a recipe a few weeks ago that called for marjoram.  i didn’t have any and it was difficult to find in the store so i thought i would try growing it.

and basil.  which i love.  if i had more space i would grow it in drifts of every color and texture available.

up front i have a sad little tomato.  i struggled with starting these under the grow lights.  more on that later, perhaps in the form of a tutorial entitled “how not to start tomatoes indoors”.  i think he’ll make it though.  as to whether or not he’ll produce….we’ll see.

i have mint in a pot on the doorstep.  mint tends to be invasive, so i’ve been told.  i have two other varieties: pineapple mint, and apple mint yet to be potted up, perhaps with some annual dianthus.

and while you’re here, please have a look at my dutch iris getting ready to bloom….

and my traditional iris, planted about eighteen months ago but getting ready to bloom for the first time.  i am stoked.

so that is my herb garden.  you’ll have to stop back later on this summer to see how it is progressing along.

anyone else growing herbs?  what kind are your favorites and why?